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ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)--Hopefully by now, you know I have a heart for church planters and I want to see the SBC start more Southern Baptist churches. We've done several things in my first few months at the North American Mission Board to help give church planting a boost. Budget cuts and staff downsizing are allowing us to put $9 million extra on the field for church planting this year. Next year, I hope it will be $15 million.
In one of my first trips as NAMB president, I visited some of our church planting missionaries in New England. These guys have such a passion and dedication for reaching that part of our nation for Christ. The problem is, just when they start making some progress with their church start, NAMB's funding runs out.
So one change we are making right away is to give our church planting missionaries a longer "on ramp" as they are starting their church -- especially in parts of North America where starting a church is so difficult. That means in some areas we'll be extending our funding from two years to four years.
In addition, we're looking at the amount of monthly funding we provide planters. Under our current funding structure, NAMB provides some planters with as little as $200 a month. Obviously, that means planters have to look to other (or many other) sources in order to survive financially. We need to provide more and we are working now to determine a new funding structure that will include higher "minimum" monthly support NAMB will provide.
In developing our new "Send North America" strategy, we want to partner state conventions and churches with regions, cities and individual church plants with whom they want to have a relationship. That means church planters won't have to spend so much time seeking out and developing supportive relationships with churches and state conventions. We want to do more of that for them.
Those are a few things we have already done. We want to do more to help SBC church planters have maximum impact. I know it's not all about money. We also just need to make the process of becoming a church planter easier. Right now, we put up too many hoops for planters to jump through. Yes, we need to be sure candidates are solid on doctrinal issues, but we don't need to make them fill out three different applications with three different entities before they can even be considered as a planter.
We will be working to encourage our existing churches to enlist greater numbers of members to pray for church planters. We also have a dream of seeing many, many more SBC church members serving alongside church planters in short-term and long-term missions settings. Even brief visits or phone calls can be so encouraging to planters who are serving in difficult places.
What else should we be doing? If you are planting a church -- or have in the recent past -- what would be most helpful to you? I really would value your thoughts and opinions as we try to make NAMB more responsive to and supportive of our church planting missionaries.
Kevin Ezell is president of the North American Mission Board. To respond to Ezell's column, go to http://bit.ly/gF4yKV